Monday, February 23, 2009

Zoho Vs. Google Docs

My faith in Zoho is renewed ten-fold. Here's a quick time line that should explain why everyone should be using Zoho for online computing.

10:00am - I log in to Zoho to find that events on my calendar have disappeared. Frustrated, I submit a complaint using the feedback link at the top of the page, and then begin writing a negative blog post about the incident.

11:30am - I get an email from Bharath stating the problem had been corrected and apologizing for the inconvenience.

11:32am - Raju Vegesna leaves a blog comment also apologizing.

12:32pm - Sasikumar Shumar leaves a blog post explaining the error and assuring that the problem was fixed.

2:50pm - @arvindnatarajan apologizes via Twitter and says that my blog will help them resolve any future problems with Zoho on the Eee PC.

I don't know about you, but I consider that pretty impressive customer support. I doubt you'd get the same response from the folks at Google Docs.

In Need of A Zoho Support Group

Day 1

Now that I'm well rested from a week off with the wife and kids, I'm ready to jump into my cloud experiment. Even though I posted the intro last week, we're going to call today day 1 since no school meant no need for cloud computing.

Things have gotten off to a rough start. To take full advantage of everything Zoho offers, I decided to throw away (well, hide behind a cabinet) my desk blotter calendar and use the app bundled as part of the Zoho Personal suite.

My first impression of Zoho Calendar was that it did not seem unlike other programs I've used in the past (most notably Sunbird). The small Eee screen didn't affect things much, but I did have to move the Xandros task bar to add/edit events. After transferring all my important dates from the blotter to Zoho, I figured I was all set.

When I logged in an hour later, all of my hard work had mysteriously vanished. I could add new events to my calendar, but all the previous were gone. I clicked on the Zoho desktop tab and then back to the calendar, and got a nonsensical error message. Hmm.

Assuming I did something wrong, I went to the Zoho Forums (a link conveniently located at the top of the page) in search of advice. I guess I had just grow accustomed to the incredible Eee PC help on, because I was dumbfounded to find hardly any topic threads with more than one post. Indeed, there were several other Zoho users who voiced concerns over disappearing calendar events, but none of their posts contained any answers. The best I could find was one user who stated that Zoho only worked well with Internet Explorer/Exploder on a Windows machine. It read in part:

"I am using Ubuntu 8.10 with Opera 9.63 as well as Firefox 3.0.5, and I am unable to add events to the calendar. If I click on Create Event and put in minimal information, the event is created. However, when I start modifying the Start/End Dates, Repeat, etc in the Create Event dialog, nothing seems to happen and no events are created on the calendar."
Could Zoho be just as glitchy with Xandros Linux as it is with Ubuntu?

I'm still excited about the possibilities of using Zoho on my Asus Eee PC, but it's clear that diving headfirst into this pond may not be a good idea. What's just under the surface is yet to be discovered.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

2009 - The Year Technology Broke (Experiment 2.0)

Day 1

I'm a huge Green Day fan, and have been since I was in 8th grade when they released their breakout album, "Dookie." Like all teens, my bedroom was wallpapered with magazine clippings of my idols, and many of these were of the three guys in my favorite band. In addition to having a successful career for more than fifteen years now, Green Day is also awarded the distinction of bringing punk rock music into the mainstream. While this will always be fiercely debated (Ramones and Sex Pistols fans fight relentlessly to claim this distinction), there's no denying that something happened the year Green Day hit it big.

I remember one of the wall clippings in my room was from the cover of Rolling Stone that featured the three rockers with a banner proclaiming 1994 as the "year punk broke." And that banner is the reason why I'm writing this.

The year punk broke

Historians are going to look back on 2009 through similar lens, only with technology instead of punk rock music. The Internet as we know it (loosely defined as Web 2.0) is no longer an exclusive stomping ground for teens and trendy college grads. Important people - CEOS, businessmen, educators, even the president - are realizing its full potential. The fact that WGRZ, the local news channel in Buffalo, NY (my hometown) uses Skype for live reports and has a Twitter account is indicative of the times.

Part of this technology revolution comes in the form of the netbook, which this blog has been devoted to thus far. But what about the applications and services that are being designed for just such a machine? Ignoring that is like buying a HD television so the static comes in more clear. To enjoy HD TV, you must also enjoy the programming, and to truly embrace the netbook revolution - and the year that technology broke - you need to also embrace the future in the cloud.

Despite some serious opposition and a bit of conspiracy theories, cloud computing is the future of netbooks and computers as a whole. Instead of fighting it, let's see its possibilities.

For the next 100 days, I will only use services that fall under the definition of a cloud application. The only obvious exception is a web browser - primarily Firefox. For this experiment we will loosely define cloud apps as any service that can be access from any computer where all files, settings, etc are stored remotely.

Here we go!

Friday, February 13, 2009

The End of the Eee PC Experiment

Day 100

100 Days have come and gone and I have successfully made it through my Eee PC experiment. The purpose of this blog was to see just how far netbooks could be pushed. I must say, it was far easier than I imagined to give up all other computers in favor of the Eee. To be fair, the journey wasn't without roadblocks and potholes. So for the final post (or is it...), the 100th day with the Eee PC, I give to you my final list of Pros and Cons.


1. Portability - Over the past three months, the Eee has traveled with me daily to and from work. It has also been carried into the auto repair shop, my Mom's house for Thanksgiving, and countless fast food and coffee spots. The ultra small size simply can't be beat. Also in those three months have I never had the battery completely drain. I typically get at least 3-4 hours with all the bells and whistles enabled (wifi, screen brightness, sound, etc.), and I have never had the battery completely drain. Unlike Dells which are notorious for giving about a dozen seconds notice before shutting off, the Eee's low battery warning seems to be more than several minutes - plenty of time to fetch the charger from under the bed in the other room.

2. Versatility - Since purchasing my Eee, I have put it up against challenges it simply was not intended to handle, yet it chugged along unphased. I have used it for audio recording, LCD projection presentations, media downloading, and even for keeping the kids from crying while my wife was sick in bed. Around Christmas I convinced a colleague at work to purchase two Eee PCs for her kids (11 and 7 years old), and they too are happy as can be about the laptop. Their priorities - Webkinz and word processing for school - are much different from mine, yet the Eee accommodates everyone.

Even my 19-month-old participated in the experiment.

3. Xandros - If you have been following my blog you'll know that Xandros is one aspect of the Eee PC that I have thoroughly explored. I've tried three different operating systems (UbuntuEee, MintOS, gOS) but returned to Xandros every time. It's not without it's flaws, but then again, neither am I (and I still consider myself something of a catch). For the Eee, Xandros is the way to go. Basic mode fits the true purpose of a netbook while the advanced desktop provides the control and power that people find so favorable with other Linux distributions. While there are parts of Xandros I never figured out (like setting up Compiz Fusion, for example) they are all secondary when you look at it from the perspective of an operating system that is capable of tackling nearly every task that can be thrown at it.

4. Community - I couldn't say goodbye to my experiment without first giving props to the community of Eee PC users, programmers, and enthusiastic that have helped me either through direct contact, blog comments, or forum threads. Specifically, Eeeuser is essential for anyone looking for help with the Eee PC. 90% of my accomplishments with my Eee came from the Eeeuser forum. So thank you, everyone!


1. Limited Resources - At one point I compared Xandros to a donkey - not because I was suggesting its programmers were sterile - as an analogy to explain why it is so difficult to find packages that are compatible with the Eee PC. This was a problem that plagued my experience. Not only were there programs that I simply couldn't get running, there were those like ktorrent and VLC that worked for a while, but then developed some irritating dependency issues when they needed to be reinstalled. Not only are resources limited for Xandros, they're actually decreasing as packages are updated (and therefore no longer work on the Eee).

2. Web Browser - I think the current browser wars is a good thing and I'm a willing soldier in the battles. Before switching to the Eee, I took a liking to Google Chrome for Windows and previous to that I was an avid supporter of Firefox. Even though I missed Chrome (which will most likely never be ported to Linux), I was okay with the idea of Firefox on the Eee. But the more I use it, the more I'm reminded of my experiences with Internet Exploder. Sites with embedded objects cause Firefox on the Eee to crash. Not all the time, but enough to make it irritating. I tried Opera and lesser-known Galeon too, but I just can't find anything that I feel works great with the Eee PC. For now, I'll stick with Firefox, but for no reason other than I can't find something better.

3. Speed - The Eee PC is what it is - an underclocked 900Mhz processor with 512MB of RAM. It doesn't have much issue with surfing the web or basic office documents, but its shortcomings become quite apparent when you try to do anything with media files (audio/video editing, file downloading, etc). Granted, the Eee isn't intended to do these things, so it's kind of like complaining that a bowling ball makes a mediocre doorstop.

So there you have it - these are the findings of my Eee PC experiment. Does that mean my Eee will now be turned off and tossed into the closet? Or used to prop up the bum leg of the sofa? Probably not. All nit-picking aside, I enjoy using the Eee PC and it suites my needs well. The only problem with ending my blog here is the simple fact that I would miss writing in it.

What direction will this blog take? I left a hint at the top of the page. And if you're still not sure what I'm getting at, don't worry - you have the next 100 days to figure it out.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

I'm a Dad! (Again)

Day 99

On every blog how-to site I've read, it warns not to apologize for lack of posts, but I figure I have the best excuse possible. Where have I been, you ask? On February 3rd, my wife gave birth to our second child – John Michael. We're now a family of four, and although our daughter is acting a bit needy, everyone is happy and healthy.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Best Twitter App for the Eee PC

Day 91

I made a Twitter account a few years ago when it was a reletively unknown site. I gave up soon after though because I simply couldn't convince my friends that they needed another site (Myspace, Facebook, Blog, FriendFeed, Livejournal, Flickr, Etc...) to update.

But now all that has changed. A few weeks ago, curiosity got the better of me and I created a new Twitter account. I've been slowly adding friends - both personal buddies, and folks that seem to have common professional interests as myself. I'm quickly seeing how fast Twitter allows for the spread of information. As a teacher and technology enthusiast, this is important.

I was getting tired of stopping my regular browsing to update my account, so I decided to see what kinds of add-ons Firefox had to offer. I installed a few to try out (In the Firefox menu, tools-->add-ons), but many added an additional toolbar to the menu. Like I've mentioned before, I have a hard time giving up screen space on the Eee. I deleted those, and instead settled on TwitterBar.

TwitterBar adds a tiny icon at the end of the address bar in Firefox. While browsing, you can type your tweet into the address bar and then press the icon. It updates Twitter without ever leaving the page that is currently being displayed.

I think this is the best Twitter add-on for the Asus Eee PC because it adds functionality without taking up any space. Oh yeah - you can follow me on Twitter here.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

How Not To Set Up Beryl on the Eee

Day 88

One of the things that originally hooked me on Linux was the eye candy of Compiz-Fusion. It didn't really make me more productive or the machine more capable of doing anything, but it sure was cool to show to friends and then mockingly compare to their lame Windows computers.

Today I decided to get Compiz working on the Eee. I checked Synaptic and Compiz was listed, so I installed. No errors, no dependency issues, no problems. Until I tried to configure it. In Ubuntu, Compiz-Fusion would install an advanced desktop settings panel, but this was missing in Xandros. I've already had to restore my Eee 3 times due to botched experiments, so I decided to play it safe and head to Eeeuser for some advice.

I found directions for Beryl that seemed pretty easy to follow. I'm not real clear on the difference between Beryl and Compiz, but I know that they are both a fancy windows manager and that was good enough for me.

I went through all of the instructions and ran into zero snags. The last step was to change a file to start Beryl instead of the regular X window manager. After I did that, I crossed my fingers and rebooted the machine.

I must have crossed the wrong ones because something went horribly awry. I saw the loading screen, but only caught a glimpse of my desktop before the entire screen went grey. I could still see and move my mouse, and it would change from an arrow to the hand when I moused over things, but I couldn't see them.

StEeevie Wonder.

My best guess is that there was a driver issue that wasn't cooperating with Beryl - I could see the screen for about a second before Beryl loaded. I didn't want to restore, but without the display there was no way for me to reverse the steps I had just taken to install Beryl.

Fortunately for me, I have a shortcut to the console on my desktop. I was able to blindly find it with my mouse and open it. I typed xkill and aimed at the Beryl icon in the task bar. The screen flashed and I thought for sure that I would be spending some time digging out the restore disk from under the bed. But then something interesting happened. The computer rebooted into easy mode.

I was able to open the console in easy and retrace my steps. The only thing remaining now is a angry pop up every time I start my computer. Something is still looking for Beryl, but this is better than nothing.